United head to the Etihad just a point back from fourth-placed City and with the chance to leapfrog their rivals
IT doesn’t matter if you are a red, or a blue. It’s about passion, commitment, family, work colleagues and friends.
It’s about excuses, missed opportunities, adrenaline and moments of magic. It’s about sadness, joy, heroes and scapegoats. It’s about reaction, the referee and analysis. Above all else, it’s about Manchester bragging rights! It’s derby day!
Last summer, the eyes of the footballing world were on Manchester, as Pep Guardiola took over at City, and Jose Mourinho at United.
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This was something completely different. Oh yes! No disrespect to City managers from years gone by, but this wasn’t Sir Alex Ferguson pitting his wits against Brian Horton or Frank Clark.
The Manchester derby had been elevated to a new level, and supporters had as much to keep them occupied off the field as they did on it.
While Thursday’s Premier League clash is not quite the epic title decider many predicted last August, the stakes are still high.
The losing side will have to start facing up to the real possibility of finishing outside of the top four.
You could argue that the game is more important for Guardiola and City, because as Mourinho has repeatedly pointed out, his side still have the chance to qualify for the Champions League, via the Europa League.
The Portuguese also has the EFL Cup in the bank, and it would be interesting to see the reaction in the City boardroom if Guardiola not only finished the season trophy-less but outside the Champions League places too.
At almost any other stage of the season both managers would probably take a point this evening.
But, it’s late April, and even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo absent through injury, the chance to leapfrog City in fourth is too much for Mourinho and his ego to ignore, despite the carrot of the Europa League.
It’s also 1-0 to Guardiola in the Premier League head-to-head battle, and even though Mourinho was victorious in the EFL Cup tie in October, he won’t want two Manchester derby defeats on his record in the same season.
It was far from pretty last September watching the first Premier League meeting between the two managers. As United fans, we left worried.
Having bounced into the fixture with a 100 per cent record we were brought down to earth by City and a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford. Ouch.
It wasn’t just the defeat either, it was the manner. On the day, United looked lethargic and unsure of what their manager was demanding, while City played with freedom and zest and at that point looked like the outstanding side in the division.
Seven months on and while things haven’t swung completely back in United’s favour, Mourinho’s team are on a 23-game unbeaten run in the Premier League and fans are already looking ahead to the next campaign with renewed hope.
With both managers expected to spend significantly again in the summer, Thursday’s match is unlikely to provide an indication of what might happen next season.
The question both sets of fans should be asking though is which manager has learned more from their first year in charge?
Can you see Guardiola changing his style and making City tighter at the back? And for United, is it really just more goals they need as Mourinho suspects?
One thing’s for sure and that’s from August the honeymoon period will well and truly be over for Guardiola and Mourinho, and in 12 months time they’ll be expected to be fighting it out in the top two positions, rather than scrapping for fourth. Enjoy the match!
Twitter : @MrTomMcDermott